By Tenzin McGrupp
I had been living in a small rent controlled studio for a couple of months before I made my first contact with my neighbors. I was subletting the place from a friend of a friend who’s great aunt was the person listed on the lease. The rent was a paltry $657 a month, but after having to pay off the family who originally rented the place, kick backs to the super, and a cut to my friend who sublet me the tiny, drafty, roach infested, Upper East side, six floor walk up, the rent was close to $1100 a month. The only way I would be able to support that hefty rent (without a real job) would be if I took Rusty up on his offer to work for him as a delivery person for his successful kind bud, home delivery service. He had lots of high priced clients, so the work was not dangerous at all, if anything, they all were pleasant people who bored me to death. Work was always available, and I found myself settling into a nice noon to 6 PM shift during the weekdays and I worked occasionally on Friday and Saturday nights. Yuppies liked getting their kind bud sent to them at work, for some odd reason.
I had dealt drugs before (on a smaller scale) but I never worked for anyone else in a courier capacity. I had the routine down pat. I would get dressed up in a Brooks Brothers suit, and carry around the drugs in a fine leather brief case. Even the federalies on their highest levels of security alerts would never suspect a well-groomed suit as a drug fiend. I would saunter around midtown, past hordes of cops and undercover agents with a “smug and holier than thou attitude”, often using stock phrases on the phones and during calls to clients.
“So you want me to pick up 1,000 shares of Motorola? Let’s just say, it’s not a good time, perhaps 500 shares would be more suitable for your portfolio?”
I would pop in and out of office buildings in midtown, dropping off $50 and $100 baggies of Purple Haze, or U-6, or even the rare Afghani Hydro, and hop on the subway to lower Manhattan and make a few drop offs to closeted potheads on Wall Street, and eventually cruising over to TriBeCa or SoHo to make deliveries to the artsy-fartsy, cyber potheads, those 20-something kids who worked out of their homes designing websites or other high paying internet related jobs. I liked these clients the best because the let me sip herbal tea and get stoned on the job, while I sit, in a newly pressed suit, my feet up their brand new Ikea furniture, listening to whatever hip, new tribal music from Paraguay was in that particular week.
I sold weed daily to Republicans and Democrats, men and women, Yankees fans and Mets fans alike. It didn’t matter, there was one thing everyone I saw had in common, they loved marijuana. And let me say they also liked seeing me, a lot! I never had a dog, but I gather the reactions of having a canine pet would be similar to that I get from when I see some of my jonesin’ clients. The minute I walk in the door, they get all excited, sometimes jumping up and down on top of me, the bold ones, licking my face, and sniffing my crotch. They go bananas when I open up my briefcase and show them the “special of the week” which was always a sham. The specials of the week were just older batches that Rusty needed to get rid of quickly before it got stale, and before he got a new batch in from Portland.
It had been a few months before I even talked to any of my neighbors. I’m a shy person and I don’t like people asking me a lot of questions, especially personal questions. And in NYC, everyone asks you what you do for a living first, even before they ask your name.
“Consultant, high yield international bonds,” I muttered one afternoon, when the fellow down the hall cornered me, while I was getting my mail. I avoided small talk at all costs, and quickly shifted the conversation to him. Surprisingly, people are more self-centered and self-involved that I thought, and most of the time, I can avoid unwanted interrogations by asking them questions about themselves.
One afternoon, I had gotten off work early and I saw a woman struggling with a large box, as she nearly kicked it all the way down the hall. I didn’t want to talk to her, because she lived right next door. I didn’t want her to know I was sitting on large sums of cash and a half of pound of marijuana. But I sensed she needed help. I decided to do a good deed and offered her my help.
“Thanks,” she said, and that’s when I saw she was very young, maybe in her early twenties, with short black hair, and she had a slight southern accent.
She invited and offered me in for a cup of iced tea. She told me that Oliver, my other neighbor, told her that I was a stockbroker or something like that. I didn’t deny, nor confirm her assumption, I just sipped my tea and asked a dozen or so questions. Her studio was the same size as mine, and it was nicely decorated with simple, but inexpensive knick knacks, which my eyes captured as they wandered around the room as she spoke, softly, but in a sultry drawl.
“North Carolina,” she said, “is where I grew up most of my life. I moved to New York to become a singer, but so far it hasn’t worked out.”
She was slightly vague and somewhat aloof when she answered some of my questions, and I pretended that they were good enough answers, but I definitely got the sense that she was bullshitting me. She told me her name was Cindy, but I got the odd feeling it wasn’t her real name. Which was fine by me, because my entire life was pretty much a lie anyway. I thanked her for her tea, and I left. Over the next few weeks, I saw her a couple of times. Once at the dry cleaners downstairs, another time she was leaving a diner on First Avenue, and I saw her twice at the bodega buying cigarettes. Cindy always smiled and made small talk, but we never said more than a couple of lines of conversation.
One afternoon, I got a call to a new client. Usually Rusty never liked taking on new clients, because he didn’t want to deal to people he didn’t know, but sometimes he met people whom he clicked with so he gave out his number. On that day I got a call to go see someone on the Upper West Side. When I got to the apartment, the doorman asked me what I was doing looking for Mr. Hastings.
“He needs to sign some documents,” as I pointed down to my briefcase.
The doorman let me in, and I went upstairs. A man in his early 50s, with white hair opened the door. He was wearing a bathrobe, and led me into his living room and offered me a glass of wine. He looked like Steve Martin, and spoke very eloquently. On his glass coffee table I spread out a couple of bags and because he was a new client, I told him what each bag cost, and what was the best buys. He picked up $300 worth of bud, and he even tipped me $20! He was ready to offer me a couple of hits when a half naked woman walked into the living room. It was Cindy, with a t-shirt and nothing else on. When we made eye contact we both froze for a second, as her eyes mutated in size.
“Oh, this is my lady friend Amber,” the man said.
I got up and nodded my head. And said a hasty hello. I pretended that I got a call on my phone and excused myself. I left the apartment and frantically walked over to Central Park, where I freaked out.
The next day there was a kick on my door, it was Cindy.
“Hello Amber,” I told her.
“It’s Cindy, and can I come in?”
I didn’t want her inside my place. I made up some silly story about a small army of baby roaches that invaded my studio and have set up camps all over, and it would not be safe for her to be in harm’s way. Instead we walked downstairs and sat in the diner.
I dunno what it is about me, but for some reason, complete strangers would often empty their hearts and souls, and tell me their sad life stories. I guess it’s because I have a nice face, or I’m a good listener. But there I sat, munching away on a soggy grilled cheese sandwich, sipping bad coffee, listening to Cindy tell me the story of her sordid life, how she left Boone, North Carolina to be a big star, but the real reason was to escape her abusive step-father (how cliché I thought) and her two timing boyfriend, a TV repair man named Junior. When she got to NYC almost three years earlier, she struggled to find steady work, a cheap apartment, and to find someway ingenious to break into the difficult music industry. After one long, cold, desperate, depressing winter, and after weekend of weepy tears, she was ready to give it all up, and return home to North Carolina, until she met Mr. Hastings. He was a hot-shot real estate attorney and one night, he picked her up in a bar that she worked in. She instantly began to have an affair with the married Steve Martin look-alike. After a couple of weeks, he said he would set her up with an apartment. He was unhappy in his marriage, hated his children, and going to leave his wife. He convinced her that he would someday like to spend the rest of his life with her, and marry the very gullible Cindy, move to Connecticut, and eventually take her around the world with him. She fell for him fast, and his generosity even faster. Alas, to her utter dismay and disgrace, she found herself a year later, insanely confused, not married, not living with him, and rarely traveling with him anywhere. Their meetings had been limited to quick romps, when he would come over twice, sometimes three times a week for an hour maybe two, only to have sex with Cindy.
“So you’re basically fucking him for the apartment,” I responded.
“Yes, pretty much,” she replied, “And when I found out he was also seeing other women, I flipped out and started doing all kinds of drugs. I was crushed. I never handled rejection too good. I was very much in love and now I realized I was just getting used. Well, fuck, my habit increased and I was using more and more everyday, just to get outta bed, ya know? And he wouldn’t give me any more money than he had already been giving me. I got scared and didn’t know what to do. And this friend of mine, I knew from the gym, Crystal, well she turned tricks now and then to make ends meet and cover her own drug habit. I figured shit, if I’m already getting fucked over, I might as well make some money out of this. So I began to see other men for money.”
“So, let me get this straight, you’re a hooker?”
She hesitated before she answered, “I hate that word.”
“I’m sorry. Call girl, escort? Perhaps woman of the night?”
“Look, at first I just slept with really wealthy guys I’d meet during weekends in the Hamptons. I’d fuck them in exchange for trips to Paris, Rome, the Bahamas. I got to go see places I only dreamed of. And all I had to do was suck a little dick every now and then, which is no big deal, ya know? Because I enjoy sex, and I’m not one of those prudish girls who looks down upon women taking their own sexuality into their own hands.”
“How many countries have you been to?”
“All by sucking cock? Not too bad.”
“I guess so. But it’s really not like that. Most of these guys are lonely or need some validation in life, and fucking a twenty year old gives these guys a feeling that they can’t get at home I guess with their wives.”
“So you say,” I said with a fascinated look on my face. Cindy was really an adorable young woman, with a warm smile, and pleasant way that she carried herself. She looked like the girl next door. Wait a second, she was the girl next door! All this time I was living next door to her. She’d be the last person I’d expect to be a hooker. Then again, she’d thought I’d be the last person that would be selling dope. Makes you wonder, who are your neighbors, really? Underneath their external life, what goes on behind their doors?
“I had about six or seven guys that I would see regularly. But then I guess I got greedy. My coke habit got a little expensive, and I started seeing more clients.”
“What do you charge?”
“What a night?”
“No for one full hour.”
“For anything?” I quizzed.
“Well almost anything, I don’t do anal. I’m anal about anal sex.”
“Fucking A! Do you beat guys up and tied them up?”
She laughed. “You know that guy, you saw me with?”
“He likes to be tied up, spit on, and beaten. He also loves sucking on my toes, which, ewwww, is kinda gross, but it pays my rent.”
“I guess, people bitch about their jobs every day in this town, but they usually have to deal with arrogant assholes or sit in dreary cubicles every day. But shit, you, you Cindy, suck dick and get your toes sucked. I suppose that ain’t a bad way to make a buck in this world.”
“I’m glad you see things my way.”
Over the next few weeks, Cindy and I became good friends. She would send me the occasional postcard from Europe or the Caribbean when she would leave town for a long weekend with one of her clients. Sometimes she would bake me homemade biscuits from scratch and bring them over seconds after they came out of the oven. But most recently, we hung out for about an hour each day, after I got home from work, and before she went to work. From 7pm to 8pm in my studio, we’d get stoned and watch the BBC News followed by reruns of Seinfeld and snorting nicely cut lines of cocaine.Tenzin McGrupp
is a writer from New York City.